Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Twitter and Texting Ruining Public Speaking?


I attended a real-time webinar the other day and as the presenter showed his PowerPoint®  slides, he deviated from his presentation every 3-4 minutes to answer a question posed from the moving stream of webinar attendees that was displayed to the left of the screen. I couldn't help reading the attendees' conversations going on during the presentation, many of which had NOTHING to do with the topic at hand! I am easily distracted naturally and soon found myself more interested in what the participants were discussing amongst themselves than what the presenter was saying. I liken it to a crowd of people in a room having conversations while a presenter is trying to make a presentation in front of the room where no one is really paying attention.

Many attendees use their laptops during some one's presentation. My question is WHY? One could say it is for note-taking purposes (did you forget how to write?) or emailing important information that simply can't wait until the talk is over (why don't you just exit the room and give up your seat to someone who indeed wants to be there and listen?) Some would even argue that it is now becoming more common to use the laptop to Tweet or text to friends who are not able to attend the talk, and give them your opinion of the presentation being given in real time. Am I missing something here? Can't you guys wait until you see each other in a few minutes out in the hall, after the presentation or during a break or during lunch? Maybe I just don't get it. One thing I DO know: Good presenters spend many hours preparing a presentation for the benefit of the audience so that attendees walk away with the "nugget" of knowledge they came for. To be less than attentive by using electronic devices to Tweet or text continuously is, well, rude and disrespectful to the presenter.

Frankly, I wouldn't recommend having an app where the screen displays the discussions during most live webinars and all presentations. Way too distracting. It tends to undermine the value of the presenter's knowledge and experience and his/her information being presented. Presenters should be given the option to either request that all electronic devices be turned off prior to the presentation or, for the sake of the die-hard Tweeters, periodically make a slide in the presentation with a Tweet set in quotes summarizing a key point(s) and then give Tweeters a few moments to re-tweet it or copy it to text messages. Other options are to open it up for questions at the end of the talk or use an app that has the "raise hand" option that is monitored by an assistant who gives the questions to the presenter.

Don't get me wrong. Technology is great and we need it and should take advantage of it. I, myself, can't go anywhere without my iPad and smart phone. Technology makes our lives easier and tasks more efficient, i.e., taking notes during a lecture, keeping up with the world events and information in an instant, anywhere, anytime. It does, however, have it's place.  When we humans want to really "connect" to one another, vis a vis, eye ball to eye ball, there really is no substitute for truly listening, with no distractions, in order to learn and understand.  Maybe it's just me, but it seems that although we are more "connected" to one another than ever before through all our devices, somehow it also seems that we are becoming more isolated as humans as we communicate with each other through a flat screen and minimize the importance of communicating with a real live person.

Irene P. Zucker
VerbaCom® Executive Development

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